ICE Deports Two Indonesian Christians In New Jersey

Rovani Wangko and Saul Timisela had been living in New Jersey for roughly two decades before being deported last week.

Jun 09, 2017 at 3:39 PM ET

Despite the Trump administration previously pledging to protect Christians fleeing persecution under its now-blocked refugee plan, two Indonesian Christians who emigrated to the United States to escape religious persecution were recently deported back to their home country.

According to the Associated Press, Rovani Wangko and Saul Timisela had been living in New Jersey for roughly two decades. However, after they contacted officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement last month, they were detained in May and deported last week.

Another man, Arino Massie, was deported last month, while another person’s request to halt his deportation was refused last week.

Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale has supported the men’s efforts to stay in the U.S. In a video published last month by, Kaper-Dale said that the men, who often checked in with ICE, couldn’t apply for asylum since their tourist visas had already expired.

“They came to report, because they had to. They had reported two months ago — usually when they come here they’re told they have a year until their next report. That’s been the case since February of 2013,” he said. “But this end of February, when they went to report, they were told, ‘Come back in two months with passports.’ We were very nervous about this.” Kaper-Dale added that “ICE tricked them.”

New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, who recently introduced legislation that would have permitted “certain Indonesian refugees to reopen asylum claims if they were previously rejected for missing the one-year filing deadline,” called the men’s dismissal “morally reprehensible.” Pallone added that the men “who sought asylum from religious persecution have no fallen victim to the Trump administration’s appalling refugee and immigration policy.”

In President Donald Trump’s original travel ban executive order, Christians fleeing religious persecution were to be given priority over other refugees.

The situation for Indonesian Christians has grown steadily worse over the years and the deportation of the two men is an example, experts say, of how particularly pertinent it is in Indonesia. Under the last two administrations in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, hundreds of churches have been closed down and dozens of blasphemy cases have been brought forth. Most recently, former Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is ethnically Chinese and Christian, was jailed for insulting the Koran.

Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that religious harmony has essentially replaced religious freedom in Indonesia in the last 15 years.

“Its credo basically says that the majority should protect the minorities and the minorities should respect the majority,” he told Vocativ in an email. “That principle, coupled with the broadly defined blasphemy law, put many Indonesian minorities, including Christians, to live with fear. They are running away from their country not simply to find a better life in the U.S., but to run away from the failures of the Indonesian government in protecting minorities.”